Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin took off from Cayman on Tuesday with a humanitarian mission to the eastern Caribbean island of Anguilla.
The government organized the mission earlier in the week. A Cayman Airways 737-300 plane took off in the afternoon from Grand Cayman with about 30 people on board, mainly hospital and health services staff.
Earlier in the day, in a separate international aid mission, five U.S. military helicopters took off from Owen Roberts International Airport as part of joint humanitarian relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Three U.S. Super Stallion helicopters briefly landed, refueled and left Monday as part of the same effort, although U.S. military personnel did not state specifically where the helicopters were headed.
Mr. McLaughlin’s senior political assistant, Roy Tatum, who was also making the trip, said the premier wanted to go to “show his support” for Anguillians and also to support his close friend Victor Banks, Anguilla’s chief minister.
The premier and his staff were expected to return to Cayman Tuesday night. The medical and health services personnel were expected to remain in Anguilla for about two weeks, when another Cayman Airways plane would retrieve them.
It was initially hoped, in addition to providing vital storm aid, that the flight might be able to transport some of those in the most dire need back to Cayman.
One of those in potential peril is the 87-year-old mother-in-law of Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers, whose wife is from Anguilla. However, it appeared the elderly woman would not be able to come to Cayman on the Tuesday flight. Mr. Liebaers said he was hoping for the best, but his family could not yet directly contact the octogenarian cancer patient.
“We can’t reach her to get her to the airport,” Mr. Liebaers said, adding that his mother-in-law was awarded as a Member of the Order of the British Empire a few years ago for her work in education and social services in the community.
The government aid plane took teams from the Health Services Authority, Health City Cayman Islands hospital, the Department of Environmental Health and the Hazard Management Office to the stricken island.
The aircraft also took medical supplies, water, nonperishable food and toiletries which the Cayman Islands government is providing.
Anguilla’s hospital, the Princess Alexandra, sustained severe damage in Irma and there is limited medical care available. Cayman Hazard Management officials will assist Anguilla’s National Emergency Operations Centre with initial damage assessments, communications and the coordination of relief supplies.
The small island territory, home to about 13,000 residents, was badly damaged by Irma’s record-setting wrath but is not believed to be particularly dangerous at the moment. Mr. Tatum said reports from the island indicate law and order is being maintained.
Cayman has already sent a team of police officers, along with the governor’s top staff officer, to the British Virgin Islands to quell what was described as a breakdown in law enforcement services with the desertion of more than half of the islands’ police officers.
In addition, the RCIPS helicopter is in The Turks and Caicos Islands providing emergency transport and some aerial reconnaissance as the island chain works to restore power.
“Most of us know too well the devastation and despair that arises in the wake of the hurricane,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said. “We know well it was our neighbors from the region and our families and friends who ensured that we get much-needed supplies [after 2004’s Hurricane Ivan]. It is time for us to pay it forward.”
Cayman family connection
Renee Rogers-Liebaers has been trying to reach her mother Audrey in Anguilla since Hurricane Irma smashed the eastern Caribbean island last Wednesday.
Some relatives who managed to find a working telephone in the ensuing days have told Ms. Rogers-Liebaers that the woman is still alive inside her home on the small island’s eastern side. The elder Ms. Rogers is a cancer patient and had been flying to the U.S. Virgin Islands every three weeks for treatment.
Irma’s arrival in Anguilla last Wednesday made the scheduled flight to the USVI on that day impossible and now the elderly woman is apparently stuck, with the only nearby relative being her 89-year-old sister who lives next door.
Ms. Rogers needs to get to the U.S. for treatment, according to Ms. Rogers-Liebaers’s husband. However, transportation in Anguilla is sporadic at the moment and reports indicate power could be out for six to nine months, Mr. Liebaers said.
“We’ve not been able to get any direct communication with her,” he said. “We’ve only heard via cousins that she’s OK, but we don’t know exactly what that means. She and her sister Ursula have hunkered down together apparently.”
Mr. Liebaers said his family hopes to get Ms. Rogers to the U.S. in the coming days to continue her treatment, and is anxiously awaiting word as to her whereabouts.
“We’re worried because Anguilla has limited equipment,” said Mr. Liebaers, who lived in the eastern territory for a number of years. “The whole eastern Caribbean region is going to need the same supplies to rebuild: plywood, nails, food, water. It’s not like they can just get these things from a neighboring island because all of them got hit too. When it rains, it pours,” he said.